LAKELAND - "Vote early, vote often" is a phrase dating back to mid-19th Century American politics in reference to suspicious activities at the ballot box. Fast-forward almost 200 years to this month, where Albertans are being allowed to answer government surveys aimed at increasing public trust in local politics — as many times as they want.
Two current online surveys from Alberta Municipal Affairs allow respondents to return time and time again to each survey after submitting responses. The survey outcomes could affect provincial legislation regarding municipal councils, Métis settlements, school boards and even irrigation districts across Alberta.
The same allowance is also taking place in a current Alberta Health online survey aimed at re-focusing the way healthcare is delivered in the province.
The Municipal Affairs online surveys have been active since November 7 and close on December 6. The Alberta Health survey opened on November 21 and closes on December 8. The Municipal Affairs surveys focus on possible changes to the Local Elections Authority Act and the Municipal Government Act. The surveys includes questions about councillor accountability, increasing the occurrences of private meetings, conflicts of interest, and exploring if candidates in municipal elections should be allowed to include their political party affiliation on the ballots. The Alberta Health online survey includes questions on healthcare access, medical staffing and current surgery wait times.
‘Not restricting access’
In the Municipal Affairs department, officials acknowledged the issue when it was presented to them by a reporter from Great West Media — but said nothing would be done. A department spokesperson said restricting access to the survey by allowing only one unique response from one device would affect shared access in family homes or in public libraries.
Department officials did not comment when asked about respondents who may "vote often," and purposely over-load the surveys with similar responses.
Municipal Affairs Press Secretary Scott Johnson was asked by the Lac La Biche POST newsroom how the results of the survey could be evaluated fairly.
He said the voices of Albertans will be heard.
"Public engagement, like surveys, provide key insight into the development of programs and policies that are important to Albertans. That’s why it’s important that every Albertan who wants to have a say on this survey is heard," he said, "and it’s a key reason why we don’t restrict access.”
Johnston also said the surveys are only one part of the consultation process.
“No decisions have been made," he said.
According to background information about the Municipal Affairs surveys, data from the current consultation process could be used to bring about changes to provincial legislation as early as the spring of 2024.
Have your say
Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver could not be reached directly for comment about the ability for respondents to answer the surveys repeatedly.
In promoting the surveys during a press conference last week, he said they are part of an ongoing consultation with Albertans to improve accountability and transparency.
“We review local election laws regularly to make sure the rules continue to strengthen transparency and accountability in our local elections and elected officials,” McIver said. “I encourage all eligible Albertans to complete these surveys and have their say on how we can strengthen local democracy in Alberta.”